Tanzania’s former president Benjamin Mkapa recounts days and nights of race to save Kenya

Sunday November 17 2019


By Tom Mosoba @TomMosoba1 tmosoba@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s former president Benjamin Mkapa says locking out William Ruto and Martha Karua from post-election mediation in 2008 helped secure a power sharing pact between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.

Mkapa also reveals how Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni nearly rocked the boat and wealthy Kenyans piled the pressure for a deal in the talks that would lead to formation of the country’s Government of National Unity.

Mkapa recalls that Mr Ruto who is now Kenya’s deputy president and Ms Karua, then Justice Minister, “were the most difficult to deal with.” He writes in a new book that the two often exacerbated tensions during the mediation process.

“The atmosphere changed when we got Kibaki and Odinga together without Karua and Ruto present,” Mkapa says in his memoir –My Life, My Purpose. A Tanzanian President Remembers.

The book was released in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday and gives a recount of intrigues that characterised the 39-Day mediation process led by the late UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

Mr Mkapa described the Kenyan experience as his toughest mediation assignment outside his own country where he navigated talks, in the year 2000, to block attempts by then Zanzibar president Salmin Amour to extend his stay in office for a third 5-year term.


Mkapa’s account of his mediation in Kenya and later on in South Sudan as well as in Eastern Congo, is captured in chapter ‘15’ of the book under the tiltle; “Pseudo Retirement.”

The Tanzanian leader reveals that it was a decision of his successor, President Jakaya Kikwete, to sidestep Ruto and Karua that broke the deadlock in the talks.

He says opposing parties, comprising Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU), would not agree on almost everything, until their two leaders were hoarded into a room with only the negotiators who included Nelson Mandela’s widow Graca Machel.

According to Mkapa, Mr Kikwete had just assumed the chairmanship of Africa Union (AU) from Ghanaian president John Kufuor who first steered the Kenyan talks before Mr Annan was roped in by the UN.

Before then, he says both the ODM and PNU sides were intransigent as they argued fiercely about who won the election and thus deserved executive control of state levers. It was particularly difficult for ODM to accept Kibaki as president.

“We would meet each team separately, then together; when together they would have fierce arguments. Sometimes I thought they would literally go for each other’s throat.”

“Ironically though, if matters got very heated we would adjourn to have a cup of coffee and stroll outside together, where they would mix as if they were compatriots or even friends, conversing easily and sometimes laughing,” writes Mkapa, nearly 12 years later.

He recalls that president Museveni muddied the waters when he arrived later in January to try to help things out in his capacity as the East Africa Community chairman. But the Uganda leader, he says, made remarks that painted him as being pro-one side. Museveni would later quietly leave the talks.

Mkapa reveals that his involvement shortly after the post-election violence clashes in December 2007, was first under the umbrella of the African Forum of Former Heads of State.

“Joaquim Chissano called Ketumile Masire, Kenneth Kaunda and I, saying let’s rush there before things get very bad.” He says, however, the former presidents of Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia respectively, struggled financially to make an impact.

Mkapa believes that a visit by the mediation team to camps where victims of the violence and internally displaced were staying calmed the tension and restored hope among Kenyans.

He says he was saddened at the images he saw at the Eldoret Stadium and at the Kiamba Church, also in Eldoret where more than 40 women and children were killed on New Year’s Day.

“Those poor innocent little children who were killed or injured, so sad. What did uhuru mean to these suffering people who had lost loved ones, or been injured and fled their homes?

How could any leader condone this? It was tragic, I hope this never happens in my country,” writes the former president who led Tanzania from 1995 to 2005.

In the locked room with only Kibaki, Odinga and their lawyers Amos Wako and James Orengo respectively, the mediators made it clear Kenya’s burden and the way out of the crisis was now squarely on the two protagonists.

“We would lock ourselves in until we finally resolved the outstanding issues. We stressed to the two leaders that what mattered was mutual respect and establishing a working relationship as it was high time for them to be pragmatic,” he writes. Mkapa adds that at that juncture, Odinga and Kibaki had realised that the stalemate could not continue and had to find a solution.

“What’s more the effect on major businesses such as tourism and flower export were beginning to be felt by many wealthy Kenyan business people,” Mkapa noted. He said the team eventually agreed on issues that the GNU would tackle and the size of the cabinet which came to a whopping 44 ministers.

Once Kibaki and Odinga agreed to share power, the negotiation team put an extra valve, skipping the need to have the two leaders’ locked out cronies endorse the deal. “We decided not to call in the negotiating team; rather we would present that team a fait accompli,” said Mkapa.

He says of Ruto and Karua; “When these two heard that they were being invited tot witness the signing of the agreement they were furious, saying there had been a conspiracy to persuade Kibaki to agree.”

Mkapa says he is proud to have been part of the efforts to prevent a precipice in neighbouring Kenya, and breaks it down to negotiators being honest with the leaders about the grim consequences and appeal to their inner conscience as humans.

He describes Mr Annan as being “very good at consulting with the affected parties. “He listened, he asked questions.” But he added that the former UN boss was somewhat too open with the media. “Often his comment was, What do the media say?”

Mkapa says he believes, however, that it was the UN and not Annan as a person who wanted too much exposure. “This is the United Nations: let’s have a picture, who is going to talk, what shall we say? In very difficult negotiations you must be sparse with disclosure. I know the newspapers want their headline, but you should limit yourself to saying: “Today we made some progress”, that’s it.